Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Powerful Stuff

The summer has been very kind to me. I am almost fully recovered from my July surgery. I was uncomfortable for only about 6 days. I have been singing the praises of the high tech da Vinci Surgical System which made this all possible for me. Well, that system and 2 very skilled surgeons along with an excellent anesthesiologist who tolerated my cursing and threatening to leave the hospital when he tried to put in an arterial line prior to my surgery. This is NOT an IV line, but one that goes directly into an artery (deeper than veins) so blood pressure and heartbeat can be monitored in real time. Due to the length of my surgery he felt this was the best way to keep me safe. He finally waited until he put me under to finish since his 3 tries were unsuccessful.

I had 4 very small incisions and minimal blood loss (5 tablespoons, someone said). My discomfort was short lived. Within 5-6 days I was taking walks in the neighborhood with my husband, sitting in the gardens and, in general, resuming my routine life with a few restrictions. I learned from the pathology report in July that I had NO cancer anywhere. Yippeeeeee! After living with the threat of cancer for 2.5 years and having 4 surgeries during this time while opting for a conservative treatment protocol with medication instead of major surgery, I learned I had made a wise choice in delaying this surgery, afterall. If I'd had major surgery when I was first diagnosed I would not have had the option of this high tech da Vinci procedure. My da Vinci surgeon has only been doing the robotic surgery a little over a year. A couple of others in the area may have been doing it a little longer, but no one was ready when I was initially diagnosed. Da Vinci has 3-D vision with 10 X magnification. The surgeon and I both benefited. She had a better field of vision and a clean surgical area (without blood contamination). I had a much easier recovery with less risk of complications and very little blood loss.

Now that I can travel we will soon return to our favorite ocean refuge where we will once again climb into bed and listen to the music of the sea. We will awake to that seascape of water rushing toward us and leaving foamy bubbles and a zigzag pattern across the sand in its retreat. We'll roam a familiar coastline and find new places to explore. We will heal in the salty air. These long months of stress, months during which we buried my mother, navigated 2 surgeries for me, handled a failing economy and the continued threat of layoffs, learned my father had suffered 3 fractures during a car crash, and faced a myriad of other "cost of living" emotional expenses have been hard on us. We survived them, and now it is time to rest and play! After we say goodbye to the ocean we will drive northeast to the Canadian Rockies to adventures in Banff National Park. We will see Lake Louise's deep aqua water amidst that famous backdrop of mountain peaks rising behind her. We'll stand on the Columbia glacier in the Icefields, take a boat cruise along Lake Minnewanka, and keep our eyes perched for bears, elk, moose, eagles, deer, and any wildlife which deigns to grace us with its presence. We feel it in our bones - this is our year to see bears!

We finally saw Orca whales this past weekend! We have waited 6 years to see the Orcas while seeing every other whale that lives or swims through our waters: Minkes, Humpbacks, and Grays. In the warm Sunday sun we cruised around the San Juan Islands and headed northeast toward the Strait of Georgia. We saw so many Orcas we could not keep up with the count! It was amazing to see these whales rising from the water, flashing their dorsal fins. The naturalist told us which pod each belonged to and the name of each whale. They can be identified by their dorsal fin, by its size, shape, and color patches. Whale research agencies monitor this and know the exact Orca count at any given time in this area. Right now we have 84 resident Orcas which live here in pods J, K, and L. These resident Orcas eat salmon/fish whereas the transient Orcas which can sometimes be found in this area eat mammals like dolphins and sea lions, too. The Orcas found in Alaska are the transients, as are many off the Canadian coastline.

I became a bit frustrated Sunday not knowing in which direction to focus my attention. Just as I looked to the right I would catch a peripheral glimpse of a whale on my left! We rocked on the waters for a long time since the captain killed the engine to give the whales quiet space in their personal waters. There are regulations regarding distance boats must maintain. Twice Orcas swam directly toward our boat, and we all squealed at our thrill. There were times when we all shifted from one side of the boat to the other since the whales were swimming on both sides. Making a wise choice, my husband headed to the back of the boat saying he was sure a whale on our right was swimming directly there. He was right! We did not return to shore until 9:40 PM and were fully exhausted from a day on the water and the excitement that had stirred us. Many will never know the thrill of seeing whales swimming in the wild, and we are very grateful for our luck.

In early August we made a trip to Mt. Rainier to see her glowing face up close. The last time we visited her she was so covered in snow we could not get too near. On this perfect summer's day we were able to travel as close to her face as the winding road would allow and had a picnic lunch overlooking a valley where a green carpet was overgrown with wildflowers. Even in the heat of summer, her top is snow-covered, but there are glimpses of rocky terrain along her face. She glistens in the sun in beauty which is overwhelming.

The day before our Rainier visit we took a friend for a late lunch on Puget Sound and then headed north to Anacortes to see the sunset from Mt Erie, a mountain which climbs along the shoreline. We missed all photo ops of this setting sun because we were on the wrong side of the mountain for vista pull-offs as it descended, but we saw the red burst through the sky like a burning wildfire and caught sight of it through the tree tops. It was a similar sun that we saw on Sunday as we ended our whale watching, a sun rising out of clouds she had painted pink before spilling streaks of fiery red and then splashing them with a force that colored everything in sight! I don't think we have ever seen a sunset quite as red or piercing as this. The light was so bright it refused to be captured as perfectly as we could see it, a circle crisply shaped along its huge circumference, a very pale yellow set against the reds it threw across the sky and water.

As our boat rocked along the water, sometimes rough enough to cause me to reach for rails to steady myself as I stumbled and swayed, I thought about my summer. These rough waters had brought us the thrill of the whales and a sunset more exquisite than words or photographs can capture. My own rocky waters had found me unsteady and scared but had eventually led me to a healing of body and mind. I hope that I'll remember when I once again face a situation which contains such fear or risk that the journey ahead of me can also bring exciting and rewarding results.

Here are a few photos from our summer. Some of it we spent in our gardens, some of it on day trips. Some time was spent on the Sound having delicious seafood and watching sunsets, some of it was spent in medical appointments and the hospital. Some of our summer was spent being thankful for good friends and loved ones, both here in our real lives and in virtual space. We are glad for the good wishes and prayers, for the positive energy sent our way from all over this country, for the stuff that brings healing and comfort and love. It is powerful stuff, all of it - friends, love, family, wishes, thoughts, prayers, sunsets, gardens, whales, surgeons, technology, mountains, oceans, and the waiting arms of my beloved. Blessings, indeed.

All photography shown here is from our private collection and may not be used in any manner without our written permission.

To enlarge each photograph, just click on the image


mermaid said...

Sky, your name is so vast. It's like a large canopy that covers the earth and mirrors all of its terror and beauty.

You are healing in such a spectacular setting. The photos, your words, and even what is unspoken between the lines holds such reverence for your journey.

May you be well.

rdl said...

Great news! and amazing photos!
glad to hear you're doin so well!

kenju said...

What good news that is!! I am glad to know you are on the mend. Your gorgeous photos are healing in themselves.

Tabor said...

It was like the beginning of a symphony reading your words. I am so happy and hopeful for you. Thanks for taking me on this journey of recovery.

leslee said...

Yikes, Sky. What a challenging stretch of months behind you. But at least they are behind you and things are looking up. So glad to hear the surgery went so well and the cancer is gone! And what gorgeous photos! Glad you found your whale, and have a wonderful time on your trip to Banff.

Sky said...

Hi, Leslee - I am happy to say it never was cancer. All my biopsies during these 2.5 years showed up as either normal (responding well to the hormone-related medication I was taking) or hyperplasia cells, the abnormal cells initially discovered but not cancer. These cells returned in March and are considered pre-cancerous cells. Fortunately, they never crossed the line into cancer. The docs nor I knew when this last surgery was done if some of these cells had slipped through the noose along the way and would show up as cancerous in the July pathology report. But they didn't. We were all quite pleased to learn that I had made it through this whole thing without cancer. Now all of it is over for good. There is no uterus for any abnormal cells to occupy.

colleen said...

Thanks for introducing me to that new kind of surgery and for the uplifting update! A releif!

What a mix of magnificence and beauty your words and photos portray.

Patry Francis said...

So happy that you're healed, traveling and immersed in beauty.

One Woman's Journey said...

Sky, I am back online and checked your entries. I have not been aware of all you have been going through. No computer handy for about 9 weeks.
I send you continued healing and smiling at the wonderful time you and your mate will be enjoying together.
Your images are beautiful.
Thank you so much for all the encouraging you have sent my way.
Healing and Blessings sent your way from One Woman.

lucid dream said...

i stumbled upon your page from coffeedujour's site. i was intrigued because i'm taking a trip to washington (olympic peninsula) this autumn, and i can't wait! i love looking at photographs of the area and reading accounts of it from people who live there.

i always tell my patients that arterial lines are the hardest thing we do. much of the difficulty is that we cannot see the vessel, unlike an IV which goes into a visible vein. we can only feel, and some people, especially with lower blood pressures, just don't have a good pulse to feel. in my experience, women also have smaller vessels and can be difficult too. i know it's uncomfortable, and i'm sorry you had to go through it 3 times while awake. it's horrible for us too; it wreaks havoc on my self esteem when i can't get an a-line in.

Pauline said...

So glad to read that you're healing. Your readers are equally blessed to be able to see through your eyes and read through your heart! Your photos are magnificent!

Susie Hemingway said...

Beautiful Stunning photos! and I enjoyed your post very much indeed. Your blog is quite perfect and if I may, I will return again. Your pictures have taken me on a mini journey - how lovely. Such good news for you also.

wenda said...

Wonderful news! Sorry to have taken so long to come back here to catch up with you.

Love the photos!